You may remember the movie staring Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams, in which he builds a baseball field in the middle of a corn field because the ghosts of old players tell him, “If you build it, they will come.
That idea worked well for a Hollywood movie, but it doesn’t work in business. Repeatedly I encounter start-up owners who have spent every penny they have on developing their product or a Web site and then have nothing left besides their dreams on which to market their business.
They call me and say, “I need some free publicity,” or “I don’t have any money, but what can you do for me?” Or the one I really like: “My business is the best kept secret in town.”
When I explain that they need a budget to market their business, they seem shocked! “But I’m just a start-up! I can’t afford to advertise!” Or “I’m just going to design my own logo, stationery, brochure and Web site, and later when I can afford it, I’ll do something nicer.”
Unfortunately, it’s quite likely that “later” will never happen for these businesses. “Sooner,” however, is just down the road – as in, “very soon they are going to fail.”
Sometimes I fear that these well-meaning folks think that my frustration with their position is self-serving – that I’m trying to push them into a commitment to promote their business because I stand to benefit from the fees I charge to help them. That is just not the case.
One-third of all businesses fail in the first year, and half fail in the first five years. In addition to undercapitalization, failure to plan is one of the most likely reasons that small businesses fail. And a marketing plan is key to a business plan.
Be clear on this: A Web site is NOT a marketing plan. Without a clear, written, logical, realistic and fully funded plan to drive traffic to your Web site, a Web site is nothing but a billboard in the desert, regardless of how nice that billboard is. If nobody sees it, it might as well not exist.
Or, stated another way in that famous Zen question, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it make a sound? You get the point.
Many start-ups develop their product or service, and afterwards think about marketing and PR, as though it were separate from their business – something optional to be added, like icing on a cake. That is the wrong way to view marketing.
Marketing isn’t the icing smeared on the outside of the cake, it is the sugar baked into the cake. You can’t extract the sugar from the cake, and without the sugar, it isn’t a cake. That’s how integral marketing is to a business.
Every decision you make about your product – what it looks like, how it will be packaged, how it will be sold and delivered, where you will sell it, every single detail – is marketing. You can’t separate it. If you already have a product or service and you don’t have a written plan, it’s past time that you get one.
And if you can’t “afford” to market, you need to decide if you can afford to lose your investment of time and money that you have made in your business to date.